BOGOTA, Colombia – Pope Francis opens the first full day in his Colombia visit on Thursday with messages to political leaders and citizens alike encouraging all to rally behind a peace process seeking an end for Latin America’s longest-running conflict and to address the inequalities that fueled it.
Francis will kick off the day with a meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos at the presidential palace, where he is likely to call for a building of bridges among elites bitterly divided by last year’s peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
It will be followed in the afternoon by an outdoor Mass in Simon Bolivar Park that is expected to be attended by hundreds of thousands of worshippers in one of Latin America’s most-fervently Roman Catholic nations.
In between, he is to meet with bishops from around the region, including his first encounter with clergy from neighboring Venezuela, who are looking for the pope to demand accountability from their country’s socialist government and deliver a message of hope to a nation torn by political and economic turmoil.
His 20th trip abroad as pope, Francis’ five-day visit to Colombia is a highly emotional one, fulfilling a promise he made to government and FARC negotiators when he visited Cuba in 2015 as negotiations between the two dragged on in Havana.
Back then, he appealed to both sides not to let the historic opportunity for peace slip by. But now that the deal is signed, the guns silenced and 7,000 rebels are transitioning back to civilian life, Colombians face the even more difficult challenge of coming together and eradicating the social disparities at the root of the half-century conflict.
Santos, the winner last year of the Nobel Peace Prize, offered thanks on Wednesday for Pope Francis pushing negotiators during difficult moments of…